Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Facebook Family Reunion

For most of my life, I've heard the stories from my mother about her side of the family. My grandmother: the uncaring, cold woman who didn't know the first thing about having a real relationship. My grandfather: the hard-working entrepreneur who made it possible for them to eat glazed duck during the holidays. My aunt, whom she fought with often and who didn't really have enough direction in life to make something of herself. And then, of course, my uncle -"The Golden Boy."

"Golden" because he was my grandmother's favorite and he became a doctor. He couldn't do anything wrong. He was "it" - the perfect savior that automatically won the approval of my grandparents for all of his choices in life. Like most members of my extended family, I didn't know them well. In fact, most of them I couldn't recall meeting. There were sporadic cards, pictures, and perhaps a phone conversation or two growing up, but nothing substantial. They lived in Chicago or California and we were in Colorado. Physical distance is sometimes a representation of emotional distance. An emotional distance that was really about my mom's relationship with them rather than mine.

Still, I always wondered. They were family, but I had no emotional connection or true knowledge of what they were like. I heard a lot of negative things, so a piece of me thanked the stars that I was lucky enough to not know them. The other piece felt empty. All of my friends knew their grandparents, their cousins, their aunts and uncles. But I didn't.

I saw my aunt a few times when she came out to visit. Once when I was in grade school and the other when I was in undergrad. Her girls were still young then. She didn't really look like my mom. She was tall and thin, with darker hair and a darker complexion. I liked her though. Quiet, like me. Some would label that as being timid, but I've never been one to assume that the two words mean the same thing. A few of the neighbors said we looked alike, but I knew it was because I had my dad's dark hair and a hint of his olive-toned oily-skinned complexion. Sometimes I think the only things I didn't get were his hazel blue eyes.

My grandmother I saw once at 17 and then again this past summer. We talked for awhile during my brother's graduation reception. I liked her too. She wasn't the monster my mom had painted her out to be. She's a woman of few words too, but I could tell she was genuinely trying. She said she was proud of me. Me. A granddaughter she hadn't seen in 17 years.

She was proud of me for putting myself through an MBA program while working full-time and buying my first house on my own, without any financial help. She told me that it was too bad that I couldn't go up to the mountains with the rest of the family for Memorial Day weekend because I had to work. For the first time, I saw her through my own lens and I knew that I was looking at a good person.

Last week my uncle came out to visit with his wife and his teenage son. They were in Colorado Springs for my cousin's hockey tournament and flew up to Denver to spend a few days with us before heading back to California. We'd all Facebooked each other before actually meeting face to face. I checked them out beforehand - this uncle, aunt by marriage, and cousin that I had never known. The pictures showed the family resemblance. His Facebook pseudonym "Doc K" kind of reiterated what my mom had been hinting at. But, I told myself I wasn't going to judge. I would keep an open mind. I was excited to meet these people that weren't supposed to be strangers.

Well, "Doc K," so far you're my favorite. Ornery, with the sarcastic sense of humor gene that seems to have skipped my mom and planted itself in her oldest daughter. You have a touch of self-effacing narcissism, if that's even possible. Something I can relate to.

You're my favorite because you told your oldest sister that my dreams are not a matter of "if," they're a matter of "when." For that, I thank you. Even though we haven't known each other, somehow you understood perfectly without an explanation. Your wife and your son seem just as wonderful and I look forward to the possibility of seeing you more often someday.

And finally, I'm grateful that I was able to see you through my own eyes so that my perspective could become less cloudy. I'm honored to say that you're now my family, in every sense of the word.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Taking Responsibility

"The reason why I tell you these things and ask you these questions is because I'm a planner," says my mom last week during our phone conversation.

"I don't want to see you lose your house. You have to eat. These are different times. You don't just have a child and at eighteen say you're done and stop worrying."

"But as far as you quitting that f'n job, I support you."

My mom is no stranger to foul language and she's not afraid to use it either. A cussing Christian, kind of an anomaly. But then again, this is the woman who marched down our street in the middle of a hot summer night in her pj's, armed with a baseball bat to tell our not so courteous neighbors to be quiet. It must be that Irish DNA.

During that conversation I let her talk. I didn't correct her memory or get upset or yell. We agreed that she wasn't judging me (in 2011), but that she was being a typical Chicagoan pragmatic.

After she was done, I said "Mom, I'm tired of making decisions based on money. I have enough money in the bank to live for at least a year, plus I have my freelance income coming in. Do you not think I'll be able to find a job? I have an MBA. I've always found a job within a few weeks."

"I went to Florida with no extra money in the bank, no job, and I got one in a week. Have I ever asked you for money?"

She sighs and says "No. No you haven't. And thank god because I have the other two. At least I have one that hasn't given me a lick of trouble."

I don't bother to correct her and tell her this isn't true. No child or human is perfect, but I've always paid her back or have just found a way to manage things on my own. I know this is the role I play in my family and in her mind: "the perfect overachiever."

This is the role that I have to take personal responsibility for. It's the self-concept that led me to this company and this job in the first place. It's what molds every word and phrase in to what seems like judgment when it might just be concern and a mom being a mom.

There's a quote about forgiveness that says it's about letting go of the idea that the past can be changed. When I was seventeen and about to graduate from high school, my mom asked me what I wanted to do with my life. It was in the evening, the sun was setting, and we were sitting in the upstairs living room. She on the couch, me on the rocking chair. She was frustrated because even though I'd done what she'd asked and got accepted at the local university, I wasn't excited.

I told her I really didn't want to go. I told her that I wanted to write. She got a look on her face and in her eyes that I remember as a mixture of bewilderment, frustration, and disgust. I was seventeen. To her I probably wasn't wise enough to guide myself or make a good, practical decision with at least some sort of guarantee. But if I stop for a moment, take off my seventeen year old lens, and put on my thirty-four year old one, maybe she was just trying to be a mom then too. They worry. They want the best. I get it, sort of. I don't really know. I'm not a mom. Maybe I myself shouldn't judge in return.

However, there are a few things I have in 2011 that I didn't have in 1994: complete individual power and freedom. Power and freedom allow you to take responsibility for what's causing your unhappiness. It allows you to recognize that the consequences for not doing anything about that "something" is far greater than risking the illusion of security.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Romantic Notions

A part of me is still really romantic. The part that likes candlelit dinners in Greek and Italian restaurants on a white sand beach that are only known to random tourists and die hard locals. The part that likes to drink bottles of red wine and listen to sappy music sung by the likes of Michael Bolton (yes, that Michael), Peter Cetera, Lionel Richie, and god forbid Barry Mannilow. The part that watches romantic comedies and daytime dramas and beneath the tears of mush lets a piece of her heart think that stories like that are actually possible.

That's the piece of me that still holds out the dying hope that GQ's flavor of the month is going to step out from the pages of a magazine, say a few choice words, make my heart feel as though it's suddenly alive, and whisk me into a dream where I'm Cinderella and he's Prince Charming. Stop the tape in its tracks because yeah, well honey, reality doesn't exactly work that way.

Valentine's Day. 2009. One of those vacations that was supposed to be special. "D" (the ex) and I had planned it for months. Despite the long distance we were going to have a real Valentine's Day celebration that year - on Valentine's Day. Since vacation choices are bid by seniority at work and anyone with less than ten years of service is way down on the totem poll, I had asked my boss to try to reserve that week for me until it was my turn to choose. She did and I got it. "D" and I were excited. The beach condo in Treasure Island was rented for the week. I had my plane tickets and my rental car booked. His brother was supposed to be down that week from Ohio to help him watch over his furniture business so he could have some free time.

Needless to say, there wasn't any romantic week at the beach. I ended up buying our groceries at Sweet Bay alone, we saw each other twice, and we're no longer together. I can think of worse places to be than SW Florida in the middle of winter, but when you think you're going to get a romantic week with your love and you end up eating frozen yogurt watching reruns of the Golden Girls , it's kind of a letdown. The sex was good, but a lady wants more than just sex and "I love you" sometimes.

"D" felt really bad. He promised to make it up to me. He made a lot of promises. Some he kept. Some he didn't. It's okay. I've forgiven him. I've let it go. I smile back on the weeks that we did have and the way it felt when we thought anything was possible.

But then there's today. When I realize I'm alone. I'm 34. I'm not getting any younger. Perhaps it's time to find a husband. Or at least a date. The problem is that I don't really want to date anyone that asks and I'm not sure I feel like asking anyone that looks halfway appealing. I'm kind of dead to the idea. Independent for too long. Unwilling to compromise on certain goals and ideals. Unwilling to go through the whole headache of the dating game, having to decide who and when to trust and what I can trust them with.

I suppose it will happen if it's meant to. I don't love anyone (especially men) easily. "L" says she's sure I'll find someone and it will work out. This coming from someone whose friend I went out on a "pity date" with last year. Something I really need to stop. Dating because they ask and I'm just being nice when I'm not the slightest bit interested. I ran into him yesterday. I didn't know what to say. He's a nice guy, just not my type. No sparks. Doesn't matter. He's engaged now with another baby on the way. I know it's wrong, but I thank god it isn't me. When he drove me home on the night we went out, I pretended I was asleep. He tried to hold my hand and I let him. He bought me tulips, paid for dinner and a few top- shelf patron margs, so I let him. Doing things like this are wrong. I know. But somehow having some attention feels better than having none at all.

I still have hope that somewhere romance exists; that it can exist. I'm just not quite sure that I'll actually get to feel it. In the meantime, I suppose there's always that old autographed headshot of former Days star Drake Hogestyn lying in a box somewhere.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Happiness is an Evolution

Happiness is not a summit that you scale once, but as many times as your perception changes the destination that you desire.

Happiness. Kind of a loaded word, isn't it? We think that there's some magic formula for it; some sort of "end-all" solution, if you will. If we could somehow just accomplish "this" and "that," we'd finally feel free enough to keep smiling.

A friend of mine, "L" and I were discussing fate the other night. By fate I mean the results, effects, or situations that one ends up living with. We both agreed that one's life is a combination of circumstances and choices. Now, some believe that circumstances are self-created or come from karma extending beyond our conscious memories. Others believe that circumstances are completely random, and have nothing to do with our thoughts and actions. They don't believe in past lives. They believe that circumstances are out of our complete control and the only thing we can do is react. Some might even go so far to say that our life's circumstances are shaped and controlled by some outside set of spiritual forces.

I think there's truth to all of the above and more. How can we, conscious as humans, even think that there is one single answer or that we've even uncovered all of the equation? I can think of many examples in my own life that would fit into several of those categories. The things that we have direct control over and the things that we don't mix together to produce a result that we have to respond to. Perception, personal influence, behavioral preferences - they're all factored into our choices and our environment. But that doesn't mean that we completely control someone else's, whether they be tangible or intangible.

Life and happiness, I think, go something like this: we become aware that we want something. Then we attempt to go after it; to accomplish it. While we're on that journey we may or may not reach the summit we've sketched out for ourselves. We may, in fact, reach one that we didn't sketch. We may not reach one at all, but decide that we'd rather stop, turn around, and go back down to the valley because we suddenly realize that we didn't want to leave.

The one thing I think we do accomplish is the discovery of who we are. We discover that the perception of who we would like to be is not something that is created in a single afternoon, or a year, or a single lifetime. Happiness, I think, is the discovery that nothing tangible or "destination worthy" is going to result in an eternal feeling of euphoria. The outer things that can bring us that feeling are always going to change, as long as we exist.

Happiness, the kind that brings a sense of inner release and peace, comes from a simple choice. That choice says besides happiness, what alternative is there?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


"Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be."-Kahlil Gibran

"Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself."-Zen Proverb

I'm going to be honest and "spill the beans," so to speak. Lately, I've been thinking of pressing the pause button on this project. By project, I mean the writing of this blog, which seems to feel more like an obligation lately than a beneficial exercise.

There are a myriad of underlying reasons: my time is becoming more limited as I continue to pursue the idea of becoming a freelance writer and attempting to complete my first novel in some sort of pre-publication form; there are only so many facets of sensitivity that you can comment on and explore before you find yourself shamelessly repeating yourself; I find it a little strange to disclose details about your personal life and thoughts to complete strangers; I don't really have a specifically defined direction or goal for this project, which most people who have a blog do; in roughly a month I will be making a decision about what type of major life change I'm going to embark upon and I don't want to be subject to an audience's judgment (spoken or unspoken) about what path I eventually choose. Nor am I sure that I want to document it publicly.

The bottom line is that I'm not going to shut this project down per se, but that if I'm going to continue posting to it, I'm going to need a little redirection. So, in the meantime I'm going to contemplate. Perhaps it will be in the forefront or perhaps in the background. For today, I've decided to press "pause." Just so I can feel free. Free, at least for a little while. That "little while" may take a few weeks, or a month, or maybe more. The same way a plot unfolds and then ends without intentional deliberation.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Super B Complex

There are many different facets of pain. It's part of being human. Physical. Emotional. Spiritual. Real. Imagined. Ever since I've been conscious of my existence I've lived with it. The type that's hidden and emotional. The type I suppose you could label as depression, but that I constantly shrug off as just "being moody." Writers and creatives are supposed to be that way. Sweethearts disguised as temperamental meanies.

It exhausts you. It can make you think that you might be bipolar or need a pill for some sort of inherited chemical imbalance that may or may not make you feel better in the end. You think about the possibility, but then turn towards the natural elixirs of DMAE and "Vitamin B Complex" supplements containing enough B12 to drown your liver. Just so you can feel normal and almost in control. Perhaps you won't have an emotional reaction for the rest of the day. Perhaps you won't be "so sensitive."

Sometimes I go through the paperwork in one of my boxes. It's sitting on the floor in my downstairs living room amongst a pile of memories. This particular box contains the tangible remnants of my old job. The one I left to pursue what I thought were greener pastures. We had a peer recognition program in place that was very simple. No flashy prizes or big bonus checks. Just a way of saying thank you and showing appreciation by writing your thoughts on a perforated card.

I look at the words and sentences on those cards and am blown away. What a difference between that company's culture and my current one. How ridiculous that I read those words and find myself crying because a part of me doesn't believe in them anymore. In whatever form it comes in, that's the real power of abuse. It has the ability to erase who you are.

Sometimes you turn towards other people or in some cases their creative illusions. It reignites your sense of hope. It renews your sense of vision. It realigns you with your sense of purpose. Kind of like a shot of spiritual vitamin B complex.

Laugh if you will, but I've found that it works. You find a way to accept the challenges that life presents because in the end you have to choose. Death or existence. True desire or safety. Growth or stagnation.

Wavering and chronic pain - no matter what the form - is part of the deal. It's all just a reminder that you're still discovering exactly what you're capable of. Super B Complex and all.